"Poverty and nobility”. Spaghetti with Totò
Neorealist cinema portrays an Italian population made "hungry" by the war.
Food is absent in film and at Italian meal times.
The birth of a new cinema comes with the “Italian miracle” and the 50’s economic boom.
Plays are re-adapted for the big screen by artists of the caliber of Eduardo De Filippo and Antonio de Curtis, professionally known as Totò, masters of Neapolitan comedy.
Like a modern Pantagruel or, in the guise of Punch, Totò “plays” with hunger, exhibiting it, flaunting it, showing the funny side to it.
Now that the shadow of hunger no longer looms over Italy, we can finally make fun of food and its absence. Hunger becomes a comical pretext, a metaphor for other cravings, which reveal all human weakness. Totò is voracious, greedy and insatiable, but when food arrives he hardly ever eats, revealing all his passion for beautiful women or other interests.
One of the iconic films of this successful period is “Poverty and nobility”, based on the play of Eduardo Scarpetta (1888) and directed by Mario Mattoli (1954). In late 19th century Naples, two extremely poor families are living in total hardship, when their paths cross those of an aristocratic family.
Eugenio (Franco Pastorino), marquis of a well-to-do family, falls in love with Gemma, played by an irresistible Sophia Loren.
Loren, a ballerina by profession, is the daughter of a rich father of humble origins who had come into money.
The marquis’ father is attached to his “royal blood”. To convince him to give his blessing, Eugene asks Felice and Pasquale, played by Totò and Enzo Turco, to pretend to be Gemma’s noble parents.
As in the best play traditions, the story unfolds between ambiguities and misunderstandings, plots and deceit.
Our heroes are in difficulty but, lo and behold, the deceit of the marquis Ottavio Fachetti, Eugene’s father, a former admirer of the beautiful Gemma under a false identity, is exposed.
The marquis has no choice but to consent to the marriage. Love triumphs..and yet the high point of the film is another scene, precisely that of the spaghetti meal. The scene opens in a small room, where a cook in livery is setting a table with a sumptuous meal, to the amazement of the diners.
Totò and friends remain flabbergasted at the sight of a soup bowl full of spaghetti.
The camera pauses on their enraptured expressions, before they pounce on the food.
They grab the spaghetti with their hands and stuff themselves while Totò dances. He dances on the table and eats; what he doesn’t manage to wolf down he stuffs into his pockets.
We strongly advise against stuffing your pockets with spaghetti. What we do suggest is to put some onion, extra-virgin olive oil, anchovies, olives and capers into a saucepan to prepare a delicious plate of Spaghetti alla puttanesca.